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Schemes and Conspiracies of Evil

Lenten meditations on justice and peace

March 11, Wednesday

Jeremiah 18:18-20, Psalm 31, Matthew 20:17-28

The world can sometimes be a dark place, especially in the face of organized evil. Today's readings bring us face to face with the starkness of this all-too-frequent reality.

Jeremiah is not a popular man. He was an affliction to the Powers That Be. He was definitely in the way, a big-time Threat. He held people accountable for their actions -- especially those who were rich and powerful. Since he just won't shut up and get with the program, a plot is hatched to destroy him, a reminder that it is usually much easier to just kill the prophet than to receive his or her message. It rocks fewer boats and upsets fewer apple carts. People may squawk for a moment or two, but this too shall pass.

Comes now Jesus who plainly tells his disciples -- for the third time -- "we are going to Jerusalem and I will be condemned and put to death." It's enough to make anyone want to turn around and go home in the face of this dark and wicked plot. But Matthew continues his narrative, and jumps the topic of discussion to who will sit beside Jesus in places of honor and power, and how authority is justly exercised. Can it be that there is a connection between the just and unjust exercise of authority, and the organized schemes and conspiracies of wickedness in this world?

Jesus teaches -- and the Church, by selecting these readings, reminds us -- that authority in the Church is service. The one who would be "first" must be the slave of all. If this is good enough for Jesus -- and we have his own personal testimony that this is so -- it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.

The plots of organized evil, and the unjust exercise of authority are problems that have plagued humanity since the Garden of Eden. It would seem that we are no closer to a resolution of these issues today than we were 2,000 years ago. We are still murdering our prophets, plotting evil in our hearts against the Lord -- and the exercise of authority in our societies? Don't rock the boat, they say. Be quiet, they say. Just get with the program, they say. Despite the trendiness of the bumper-sticker phrase, there are few authorities in this world who will bear much authentic questioning.

Prayer intentions today:

+ For those who exercise authority, that they will do so justly.

+ For those who are the victims of the unjust exercise of authority, that they will be healed and comforted, and brought to a place of safety and reconciliation.

Praxis today:

+ If you exercise authority over others, whether it be in a family, school, business, church, or government -- conduct an examination of your conscience in regard to how you exercise your authority. Do you yell at "subordinates"? Count the number of times you have lost your temper with those over whom you have authority. Do you demand that people bow and scrape? If people disagree with you, do you pout and whine until you get your own way? Do you collaborate with others in an authentic way, or do you just pay lip service to this concept as the latest trendy proposal from management consultants? Do you respect the dignity of those who do not have power, authority, and/or status? If you were brought to trial for the unjust exercise of authority, would there be enough evidence to convict you? How do you exercise your authority? E.g., when you must reprove or correct somebody, do you do so in a manner that respects human dignity, or are you a basic tyrant? Do you carry out such duties in private, or do you pick on people in front of others (thus warning everybody to be careful around you)? Are you a devotee of "Winning Through Intimidation"? Would Jesus approve of your management style?

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